Students and location-based services in context

Barkhuus, Louise and Paul Dourish, "Everyday Encounters with Context-Aware Computing in a Campus Environment". In Proceedings of UbiComp 2004, Nottingham, UK, 2004. The paper is an empirical investigation of the use of a ubiquitous computing system blending mobile and location-based technologies to create augmented experiences for university students (i.e. the Active Campus system, developed and deployed at UC San Diego). The focus is on how the technology fits into broader social contexts of student life and the classroom experience. This is not an evaluation of specific technologies, they rather deploy a technological setting to reflect upon some broader patterns of technology use (that would eventually lead to implications for designs), taking an institutional approach (influences of adoption and analyze the emergent practices from an institutional view point). This point is important since it allows to have a broader discussion of the technological impacts.

The conclusion is quite interesting:

Where students, on the surface, seem like the perfect probes for new technology, their inherent social structures and high level of nomadicity creates a tension between their desired use and actual possibility for use. From the perspective of research, many settled practices and infrastructures within the campus environment are inhibiting not only the adoption of new technology but also the foundation for testing new technologies. Only by looking beyond the technologies themselves, towards the broader institutional arrangements within which they are embedded, can we begin to understand the premises for deployment of ubiquitous technology.

And of course, there are some important elements that are connected to my research about the usage of location-awareness of others in collaborative settings.

Separately from the problems of mobility, we can also ask, how and when does location manifest itself as a practical problem for students? Location-based services developed in other settings point to a range of ways in which ubiquitous computing technologies can help people resolve location-based problems - the most common being finding resources, navigating in unfamiliar environments, and locating people.

As we have noted, students’ experience is primarily nomadic, and since their activities and concerns are driven as much by the demands of social interaction as by their studies, we had anticipated that services such as the people finder would be of value, helping them to locate each other as they moved around a campus environment. However, further examination showed that, in fact, location rarely manifests itself for them, practically.

This is also something we discussed here at the lab, and eventually lead to some tough issues regarding a location-based annotation project we had. There was not really a need to design those virtual post-its in the context of the school.

I also find this relevant to my work:

Because of the regularity of their schedules, the students, then, tend to find themselves in the same part of the campus at specific times in the week. Similarly, their friends live equally ordered lives, with locations determined by class schedules, and our respondents seemed as familiar with aspects of their friend’s schedules as with their own. Mutually-understood schedules, then, provide them with the basis for coordination.

A result like this is connected to the framework of coordination I used (Clark's theory of coordination). Among all the coordination "devices" people rely on, conventions or mutually acknowledged agreement like common schedule are a common way to infer other's activity (and hence whereabouts).

Finally, the last part is about the fact that "There being no home base, students have no expectation of being able to find each other in fixed places; instead, class schedules become a primary orienting mechanism around which location is determined and coordination is achieved". It reminds me a paper I saw a month ago at COOP2006 called "On a Mission Without a Home Base: Conceptualizing Nomadicity in Student Group. Work" by C. Bogdan, C. Rossitto, M. Normark, P. Jorge (Adler) and K. Severinson. The paper also addresses that issue.